I've had some basic classical (piano and organ) music training, and I even had to do an exam, where we were given an A, and we had to write down a simple melody which was played on a piano. I don't find it hard as long as the music I have to listen to is clear and not polyphonic. However, as soon as there are more than 2-3 voices at the same time, i find it hard to differentiate.

I also find it difficult to even recognize heavily distorted chords on an electric guitar for example; even though a friend of mine who plays guitar says amplified electric guitar should be even easier to hear. I can't relate to the more 'heavy' music, because it often sounds like static, I can't hear it as tones. Is this a hearing problem, is it lack of training/experience or should I consult a doctor?

2 Answers 2


The problem with distorted guitar sounds is that all the harmonics are accentuated. A pure (clean) guitar note will have some basic harmonics sounding, but they will be 'recognised' and will give you a note to quantify. Given two notes, the harmonics will be heard from both, and depending what the interval is, it will be easy or hard to specify the notes. A fifth (or fourth) will sound fairly clear, as the harmonics from each will 'blend'. However,most other intervals will produce loads of harmonics which clash, thus confusing your ear.This is one of the reasons that power chords work better than others.

Could be that your ears are pretty much highly tuned, and the harmonics are confusing them.Amplified guitar does not necessarily equal distorted guitar.

Obviously, practise listening to chords/intervals, but use other instruments as well as the guitar sounds. And bear in mind that those guitar noises are not always 'musical'...

  • So basically overtones and such are louder in a distorted guitar? And I am somewhat untrained to recognize them? Thanks, that's quite a reassuring information, I was beginning to think that something was wrong with my hearing. I'm not sure I understood the 'highly tuned' part though.
    – Matthaeus
    Jan 21, 2014 at 6:04
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    @Matteaus - highly tuned , as in perfect (but maybe not absolute !) pitch. The ability to hear notes and sing or play them back on an instrument accurately.
    – Tim
    Jan 21, 2014 at 8:43

It's not a problem, it's just lack of training. You need more interval training for your ears. Since you can't make out polyphonic melodies, try training polyphonic intervals.

Like an example, play C+E -- F+A -- G+B -- C+E and other similar examples. After a while, try something a bit more difficult. Also, try to change the intervals. In the example I gave you ,all of the intervals were major thirds. Try out all of the intervals.

Also, it would be good to practice chords. Listening to chords, since chords are 2,3 or more notes being played at the same time. That will help you.

For the distorted part, I have the same problem. I find it more difficult to make out a distorted chord rather than a clean one. I think that is normal. Maybe your friend has been playing distorted chords for some time, so he is used to them.

If you practice chords and intervals for quite some time and you still can't make out polyphonic melodies, then maybe you should consider going to a doctor or something. But you must remember you have to be patient with this. Actually with music in general.

(and keep in mind that Rome wasn't build in a day)

  • Thanks, fist of all. I'm not sure I understand you correctly: with C+E, do you mean the notes or the chords? I mostly recognize intervals correctly when I hear notes following each other, often even if two notes are played at the same time. However in a normal band- orchestra- or whatever setting, this is rarely the case, and there are many fast changes of notes who usually overlap and are often played by different instruments, that's when I get completely confused.
    – Matthaeus
    Jan 21, 2014 at 5:58
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    I mean the notes. Play simple notes together like C with E that is followed by F with A etc.. Start with 2 notes chords and then go to 3 and 4 and maybe even more. Classical orchestras usually have 4 different notes/voices if I'm not mistaken. To learn how to tell apart all of them will take a lot of practicing. But I suggest you start off with something easier before moving to 4 note chords Jan 21, 2014 at 8:21

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